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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Costumes: Story of a Renaissance Italian Bonnet

So, as some of you know, I make Renaissance garb for festival attendees and SCA members. I'll admit right here and now that my garments are very nicely made but they are NOT authentic. I use a sewing machine, serger, glue gun and modern jewelry glue to create my masterpieces, so if someone is looking for a seriously true-to-period garment, I encourage them to look elsewhere.

That said, I still love every garment I create. It's very much like writing--there's an excitement in starting a new project and when I'm through, I'm genuinely smitten with the end product :) Better yet, when a client receives his/her piece and emails me back with gushing praise, I feel a sense of joy, knowing I've made someone happy.

On to today's subject. The Italian bonnet.

What is an Italian bonnet?

Google the words "Italian bonnet" and you will find pictures of a wide variety of headwear, from a hat that I would call a flat cap to one that looks more like a caul or muffin cap. For my purposes, I label a round-brimmed, soft-crowned hat like this one: an Italian bonnet. Photo by Lynn McMasters.

The inspiration:
The costume I am currently making is a Spanish style doublet gown. Black velveteen, heavily embroidered, with jeweled brooches pinned down the front center. To a certain extent, the overall look will be similar to this portrait of Isabel de Valois, Queen Consort of Spain.

I have stumbled upon this photograph dozens of times over the past few years, as I've researched costumes for future Renaissance festivals, and I just love it. It's understated, chic, not garish or over-the-top, yet dignified and regal. It looks expensive, rich. However, due to limitations in my budget and skills, my costume will not be an exact replica. If I succeed, it will be similar enough to produce the same rich and expensive look while not forcing me to fast for the next eight months to buy materials :)

The pattern:

I have been useing Lynn McMasters' Italian Bonnet pattern to create the bonnets I've been selling on eBay, so I stuck with what I know and what I'm comfortable with. It took some time, but I've even become comfortable using the curved upholstery needle.

The materials:

Today, we're just talking about the hat. So, let's take a closer look.
To my eye, she is wearing a narrow-brimmed, soft-crowned bonnet and some kind of pearled wire net (or cage) on the back of her head. Really, you can't get a decent look at the back of her head, so this is a guess.

For my purposes, I've decided I need a caul instead. I have short hair and need to give the illusion of length. I could wear a hairpiece, and I have in the past, but they tend to be heavy and hot and I get a headache after a while. A caul is so much more comfortable, not to mention practical.

So I have decided to make a caul and bonnet.

Materials for the bonnet:
Cotton velveen
milliner's buckram
milliner's wire
Pellon craft innerfacing (heavy duty)
black cotton (to line the crown)
gold braid
black braid
gold embroidery thread and embroidery stabilizer (optional--I decided I wanted to embroider the crown).
red cabochons
glass pearls
jewelry wire

Materials for the caul
pre-strung craft pearls (yes, I cheated)
black velveteen fabric
black cotton for lining
felt (helps the caul keep its shape--skip if you have long hair)
brooch (I created one with the filigrees I used on the bonnet and a charm I already owned)

I won't go into step-by-step instructions on how to make the bonnet, since the pattern I recommended has those. The jeweled band, however, is my own design.
To create that, I glued red flat-back acrylic stones to the filigrees then ran jewelry wire through the tiny holes in the edges to secure them together. As you'll see, I alternated the placement of the stones to give it some visual interest. In addition, I placed two glass pearls between each filigree. At the end, I twisted the wires to secure. This is the first time I've tried to create anything like this and I'm very pleased with how it turned out.

The caul is quite simple. I embroider the material before cutting, to make sure the embroidery is in the center. Then I cut a large circle from the fabric, felt and lining and a 3 inch by roughly 24 inch band from the fabric. I baste the circles together, layered in this order (bottom to top): 1. lining (right side down), 2. felt, 3. velveteen (right side up). Then I run a loose gathering stitch all around the perimeter of the circle and pull to gather it, spreading the gathers evenly. I stitch the ends of the long rectangle to each other to create the band and sew one side of the rectangle (right sides facing together) to the edge of the gathered circle. Once that is done, I fold the band over to the inside and hand stitch the band to the inside, folding over the raw edges.

Finally, I hand-sewed the prestrung pearls. Later, I may apply more pearls to the caul, but for now, I'm pleased with the look. I prefer less ornamentation. With the costume being jeweled, embroidered and possibly pearled, I want each piece to balance each other well. Later, when everything else is finished, I may decide it needs more.

So that's it. My Italian bonnet. It still needs feathers. I'll add those later, but for now it's complete. As you can see, I didn't duplicate the portrait's bonnet. The jeweled band I made is taller and I didn't see the need for the pearls traveling up the bonnet's pleats.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? I'd love to hear them!

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posted by Tawny Taylor at 12:31 PM |


Commented by Anonymous Escarlata Cisneros:

What a delightful surprise to find a blog related to two of my favorite subjects *chuckling* The bonnet turned out beautifully and I hope to see pictures of it being worn at Michigan next year.

7:30 AM 
Commented by Blogger Tawny Taylor:

Hi Escarlata! Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Your comment has me laughing. It is perhaps an odd combination, but they happen to be two of my fave subjects :)

I will definitely post pix next year.


8:13 AM 

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